Going to Great Lengths for Gamefish

Winter gamefish

As the sun was breaking above the horizon the bite suddenly turned on…every cast was followed by a quick flash exploding in that feeling we love:  “Fish On!”   In fact,  one after another…  Every fish in this bunch was short.  None were keepers.

We could have caught as many as we wanted – they would hit cast after cast, but we decided to move on…

The focus of sport fishing is centered on catching nice big fish, the bigger the better. And for many, the opportunity of taking a few fish home for the frying pan is part of the adventure.

That’s the recreational fishing game.

But for Fishery Managers the goal of the game is to keep fish populations in balance.

For them, the small ones are just as important as the giants.  Their goal is accomplished by studying fisheries and setting slots, limits, and seasons, thus limiting the impacts of fishing to levels that whole fish populations can sustain.

Keeping Track of Fish Stocks Isn’t Easy

Dr. Bob Muller received the Conservation Award for more than 20 years of diligent work in stock assessment,  from Capt. Pat Kelley, Florida Guides Association, at  FWC’s May meeting.

Getting a clear picture of whole fish populations through a variety of methods of sampling is the work of scientists like Dr. Bob Muller.

Dr. Muller started the stock assessment group for the research arm of Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute more than 20 years ago, and FWC’s position as a leader in proactive fishery management rests in part on his solid groundwork.

Dr. Muller recently received the Florida Guide Association’s  “Capt. Phil Chapman Conservation Award” for his contributions to fisheries stock assessments. 

When SGF asked  “What would you like to receive from anglers to make stock assessments even better in the future? “  his reply was simple:    “Your Angler Action site currently is collecting the type of information we need, i.e. date, time, location, number of anglers…and the sizes of all fish caught, not just the harvested fish.”

Whoppers (Over Slot Fish) and Keepers (in Slot Fish) constitute the breeding stock while Up & Comers (Under Slot Fish) represent the future spawners and a hedge against adversity.

Both anglers and scientists like to see that plenty of fish are available of all sizes:  the whoppers, the keepers, and the young fish that will become the next generations.

Dr. Muller explains:  “The sizes of fish have to be considered in context.  We like to see a balance between small fish and large fish.”

Keeping a high number of potential spawners is the goal of traditional fish management strategies.

Having a large supply of up & coming (under slot)  fish is a hedge against adversity such as fish kills from weather or other toxic events.  Abundant and diverse food sources, essential habitat and natural predators are key ecosystem features that round out a healthy fishery..

The future for Recreational Angler Data

As to the future of Recreational Angler Data and Stock Assessment, Dr. Muller had this to say:  “With enough years of data, we can use the Angler Action as another catch per trip index.

Right now, we are able to use the size of fish for our stock assessments, and this is the data we need.”

We hope that being able to track the numbers of young fish could also help anticipate and avert crises.

Eventually, more timely and localized data will allow for quicker management interventions, as anglers and managers learn how to best utilize real-time reporting.

How to Record Your Catch & Lengths

Use an on-the-water trip log (or phone apps June 1).  The new Angler Action program makes it easier than ever to record all sizes of more than 100 species of fish and shellfish, and their locations.

Try it out:  www.angleraction.org.   If you fish the Atlantic Coast, sign up now for the Anglers Count Atlantic Derby, and get a chance to win prizes for every trip you log between June 1-30.

To record your catch in the new Angler Action program, select a fish family (such as Snapper) and species (such as Red Snapper).  An image will pop up to help you confirm the fish i.d.   

Record the total caught, kept, and released, and their size relative to the slot.  For more details on using the Angler Action online program click here.

Record as many measured lengths and other details as you can in the Add Lengths page of your Angler Action Trip Record.